The Long Loneliness

Oct. 23, 2018

Americans haven’t always loved whales and dolphins. In the 1950s, the average American thought of whales as the floating raw materials for margarine, animal feed, and fertilizer—if they thought about whales at all. But twenty-five years later, things had changed for cetaceans in a big way. Whales had become the poster-animal for a new environmental movement, and cries of “save the whales!” echoed from the halls of government to the whaling grounds of the Pacific. What happened? Annie and Elah meet the unconventional scientists who forever changed our view of whales by making the case that a series of surreal bleats and moans were “song.”


D. Graham Burnett, professor of history, Princeton University, author, The Sounding of the Whale: Science and Cetaceans in the 20th Century

Scott McVay, former executive director, Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, author, Surprise Encounters

Roger Payne, biologist, author, Among Whales

Sheri Wells-Jensen, associate professor of linguistics, Bowling Green State University


Read Roger and Scott’s landmark Science paper on whale song. (The paper includes great pics of the spectrograms Scott and Roger analyzed.)

Listen to Roger’s record, Songs of the Humpback Whale.

Listen to more humpback whale recordings (and dolphin tapes too!) courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Read D. Graham Burnett’s essay on John C. Lilly in Orion. (It’s a great teaser for the rest of his book.)

Read a paper Dr. Lilly published in Science, based in part on Scott McVay’s work with Elvar the dolphin.

Read the essay that inspired Scott: Loren Eiseley’s “The Long Loneliness: Man and Porpoise: Two Solitary Destinies”


This episode of Undiscovered was produced by Elah Feder and Annie Minoff  Our senior editor is Christopher Intagliata, our composer is Daniel Peterschmidt, and our intern is Kaitlyn Schwalje. Our theme music is by I Am Robot And Proud. We had fact checking help from Michelle Harris. Thanks, as always, to the entire Science Friday staff, and the folks at WNYC Studios.

Special thanks this week to Jack Horowitz, Katie Lupica, and to the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island.


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